Frank Bowling: Land of Many Waters
Exhibition curation and editor and contributing author for accompanying publication, Arnolfini, 2021.
Frank Bowling’s commitment to paint has not waned. From his vast stencilled ‘map paintings’ to the dynamic energy of his ‘poured paintings’, and later still, deeply textured surfaces embedded with objects, collage, and a multitude of both accidental and autobiographical materials. His experimental ethos has shaped our understanding of the medium.
Born in Guyana (then British Guiana) in 1934, Bowling’s life has been described through
the crossing of waterways. From the ‘mighty’ Essequibo River of his childhood to the vast Atlantic and his journey to Britain in 1953, and the transatlantic back and forth for many years between studios in New York and London. Still today in visiting his studio at Peacock Yard, Bowling traverses the meandering River Thames several times a day.
Land of Many Waters navigates the slip and slide of this watery world. It focuses on work made since 2011, exploring Bowling’s visual language. Downstairs, earlier works, cast threads back to pivotal moments in Bowling’s long career and his relentless exploration of the painted surface. Whilst upstairs, newer works, create geographical associations through light and hints of landscape, with one gallery reflecting on the foundational role played by colour in Bowling’s work.
Amidst these concerns are memories and mirages of Guyana – a name formed from the Amerindian word for ‘land of water’ – unravelling the myriad of ways in which Bowling’s surfaces are both guided by, and physically made of, water. These surfaces ebb and flow between what lies above and below. They are active, animated, stained, encrusted, littered, and layered. Their expanded edges (stapled and gelled in place) both contain and strain under the weight of their materiality, hinting at a life beyond the work.
Weaving its way through this slippery terrain, Land of Many Waters suggests the numerous ways in which Bowling’s work points both backwards and forwards. Moving between metaphors and autobiography, it circles back to the painted surface and an exploration of material, colour and light.
es a finger of time through the very act of being alive.’